RALEIGH Ruffin Hall came off as confident during his rigorous two-hour interview for the Raleigh city manager job. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: He’d been through the same process seven months earlier in Charlotte, where he was a finalist for that city’s top post.
Hall, Charlotte’s 43-year-old assistant city manager, had better luck on his second time in the hot seat. The Raleigh City Council voted unanimously Friday to name the Fayetteville native as its new city manager. He’ll start Nov. 18.
In Charlotte this February, Hall was passed over for the top job in favor of an outsider: former Arlington County, Va., manager Ron Carlee, who became Hall’s new boss.
Charlotte City Councilman David Howard said the choice was difficult. “(Hall) came really close to being the guy,” Howard said Friday. “Ruffin was definitely the rising star, and Ron Carlee was the more seasoned guy.”
With big challenges looming, Charlotte opted for the most experienced candidate – but with the hope, Howard said, of keeping Hall around until the position came open again.
Raleigh also weighed Hall’s resume against experienced city managers from across the nation, but its council reached a different conclusion.
“I kind of like the fact that Ruffin hadn’t been a city manager,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said, noting that he’ll develop a leadership style that fits Raleigh. “This is a very purposeful decision to go with somebody who’s very young, who’s an up-and-comer. He’s got that energy that can take us to the next level.”
While Raleigh will be Hall’s first time in the city hall driver’s seat, he’ll bring 18 years of local government experience throughout North Carolina – much of it in finance. Before being named assistant city manager last year, he was Charlotte’s budget director for a decade marked by both booming growth and a recession.
‘An exciting buzz’
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Hall has all the attributes the city council was looking for in a new administrator – good communication skills, a strong background in finance and a track record of fostering public-private partnerships and economic development.
“Ruffin Hall brings an exciting buzz to city hall,” she said. “He has worked with diverse groups throughout the city to break down silos and come to decisions that benefit the city.”
Council members announced Hall’s appointment – out of 80 applicants and four finalists – Friday morning in the lobby of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Dozens of city staffers and residents came out to meet him.
Hall is new to Raleigh but has strong ties to the Triangle. He earned a bachelor’s in political science at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1992 and a master’s degree in public administration the following year. Chapel Hill is where he met his wife, Cyndi, a health care administrator. They have three school-age children who plan to attend Wake County schools.
Hall got his first local government job in Wilmington, then returned as assistant to the Chapel Hill town manager in 1998 and 1999. He also spent two years in Durham as a senior budget analyst before moving to Charlotte in 2001.
Hall said he is excited to return to the area, noting his love of Eastern North Carolina barbecue and ACC basketball. “My family is very excited to be here,” he said. “I’m ready to get to work.”
Raleigh leaders likely already have a laundry list of issues that could use Hall’s expertise. In Charlotte, he oversaw economic development, planning and transit, including the city’s light rail system – a frequent source of jealousy for Raleigh.
“He has been very involved in the light rail extension from downtown to UNC-Charlotte,” said retired Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton. “His transit leadership will come at a good time for the Triangle. ... Ruffin is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with.”
Hall was also active behind the scenes when the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte last year, giving him knowledge that could help Raleigh pull off big events on the national stage.
Co-workers also said Hall is a skilled communicator who gets along with city department heads while keeping Charlotte’s $1.97 billion budget in check.
“He’s able to take a complex situation and be able to articulate it in simple terms,” said Charlotte budget director Randy Harrington, who worked under Hall for five years. “If he had to tell you no, you really understood why, and you had that strong relationship.”
All in agreement
That approach is a marked contrast from former city manager Russell Allen, who was fired in April after clashing with city council members – nearly all of whom weren’t on the council that hired him in 2001. And while Allen was a workaholic known for spending evenings and weekends in the office, colleagues say Hall is a speedy, efficient worker who makes time for his family.
The council was split over Allen’s firing, but they all agreed that Hall was the best choice to replace him, Councilman John Odom said.
“This is one of the few things that the council at the end was in agreement with,” Odom said.
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter